How to write great emails for your supporters

The below is a guest post from Digital Supporter Engagement Manager at Parkinson’s UK, co-founder, and Waltham Forest resident Rebecca Breen. This advice is tailored more towards the charity sector, but can be applied to any kind of business.

Know your audience and make the email about them

You want the reader to feel like you’re communicating directly with them. Tailor and personalise your email and ensure your content is relevant to your audience(s).

Start by imagining a specific supporter or type of supporter. Write your email as if you’re writing personally to this person.

Tell them why their support is invaluable. Reference anything you know about them such as their last gift, their regular support, an event they took part in. Use their first name, And write the email in the first person (“I” rather than “we” where possible) or second person narrative (use the word “you”).

Tell good stories

You can make supporters feel emotionally involved and connected to your organisation by sharing real stories. Talk about real people you’ve helped or have benefited from your work. Make the person the hero of the story rather than your organisation.

Stories make engaging content, capture people’s interest and inspire action as well as bringing the person closer to the cause.

Keep your email short

Most people will just skim read emails so make sure it’s easy to scan. Here are some tips to keeping it short and scannable:

  1. Keep paragraphs to 2-3 sentences.
  2. Sometimes you can have just one line in a paragraph.
  3. If you can say the same thing using less words then do it.
  4. Limit the the overall email to a few paragraphs.
  5. If you do have lots and lots to say in your email, add links to where the reader can read more on your website or blog rather than including all of the content in the email itself.
  6. Break up the text with headlines or bold sentences that cover the key messages.
  7. Separate links out from the body copy to make them stand out.

What’s the call to action (CTA)?

  1. Choose one CTA (or one main CTA if you absolutely can’t choose just one) for your email before you begin writing it.
  2. Everything in your email should build up to and re-enforce your ask.
  3. Get to your CTA in the email as quickly as possible and show how easy it is to do.
  4. Repeat the ask two or three times in the email, you can repeat the same wording (repetition might seem annoying but is a tried and tested tactic) or talk about the ask in different ways to keep it fresh.
  5. Create a sense of urgency to support your CTA.
  6. You can also use social proof to reinforce this. People take action when they can see that others already have e.g. “10,000 people have already signed our petition. This is brilliant – we’re so close to reaching our target – will you help us get there?”

Softer asks and linking up with social media

An ask doesn’t have to be sign-up, donate, sign this petition. Your email CTA may just be to share or engage with something on social media, watch a video or read a blog. In order for this to work you need to create really shareable and engaging content.

Emailing out your social media posts/graphics/videos in this way can really help drive the number of engagements/views you’ll get on Facebook (or other social media channels).

Saying thank you

You should always thank your supporters. Give them that warm and fuzzy feeling as well as show them the real impact they’re having on people’s lives.

Sometimes you can just say thank you. There doesn’t always have to be an ask, you can reward them with surprising and delightful content to make them feel valued.

Your email design

Be strategic with images – they should enhance rather than detract from the email. Full width images work better for mobile. Think about using gifs as you can tell more of a story/show different angles.

Make sure your email makes sense and still works without imagery as some users don’t download images and you want the message to still be conveyed.

If you’re sharing a video, add a thumbnail/still from the video to your email so it’s really clear that there is content for the reader to engage with. Adding the video so that it plays in the email doesn’t work on all device types so I would recommend not doing this.

Always think about and test how it looks on mobile. Most people read emails on their mobile devices.  


In order to improve the quality and engagement of your emails over time, you can send multiple versions to sub-sections of your mailing list and compare the results to hone mails.

There are lots of things you can test in your email so you need to prioritise and choose just one thing to test per email. You’ll also need to make sure the email is being sent to a large enough list to get a significant result. I’d suggest you need a list of greater than 1000 recipients in order to start seeing meaningful data.

Here are some example things you can A/B test in an email (there are loads more):

  1. Subject line
  2. From name
  3. Personalisation in various places
  4. Content of the email
  5. CTA (button versus naked link for example)
  6. Image versus video
  7. Layout/design of the email

Subject line tactics (you don’t always have to write the subject line first, which is why I’ve left it until last!)

Your subject line is arguably the most important part of your email – this is where you have the chance to grab the reader’s interest and make them open it.

  1. Keep it short (if it’s too long, it won’t show the whole line on all devices)
  2. Make it relevant to the audience and the content of the email
  3. Try adding personalisation e.g. their first name
  4. Make it engaging and intriguing – ambiguous subject lines often work well if you can think of something appropriate
  5. Don’t reveal too much, otherwise why would someone open the email?
  6. Test your subject lines, find out what works and keep iterating

Let’s take a look at how this works in an example email:

From/sender name: Laura – [insert organisation name]

Subject line: Are you there?

Body copy:

Hi %firstname%

On the first line of copy, set the scene very briefly and hook the reader in with something short and snappy.

Use your second paragraph to state the case of the email – make it clear to the reader why we’re emailing them and why it’s relevant for them.

If you’ve provided enough information at this stage, now is the time to add in your first call-to-action. This may be in the form of a button, vanity link or naked url. If you use links, remember to separate them out from the body copy to make them stand out. And you might want to bold the ask and/or link.

If you don’t have a link to push people to as the CTA, put your video, social media graphic, or image in here instead.

After your CTA or video/image, add in your additional information to reinforce your case for support/ask. This might come in the form of a real life story,  facts, stats, background info, etc.

Once you’ve covered off all the information, repeat your CTA button or link to reinforce the ask.

Signing off – the person who sent the email should personally sign it off, sign it off as you would an email to your colleague.  

An external example of a great email from Charity: Water

Now, go out there and send some great emails!